Nature’s got a wordsmith

Our knowledge about natural phenomena is limited.

Published: 02nd June 2020 06:54 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd June 2020 06:54 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Our knowledge about natural phenomena is limited. Caught up in our nine-to-five-lives, we take for granted certain essential elements of our existence. So how do we expand our knowledge to the reaches of our curiosity? One Chennaiite has found a way to bridge the gap. M Yuvan, an environment enthusiast, posts a word of the day on his Instagram page based on the unique natural processes and phenomenon that have been occuring around us. His initiative has garnered quite an audience and his followers are now thirsty for more. 

“I got the idea from author Robert Macfarlane, who posts a ‘word-of-the-day’ on his Twitter account. I started doing this for kids to learn about hidden yet valuable parts of nature. Often, words are a metaphor in ecology; one can draw meanings from beyond its definition,” explains Yuvan, a naturalist, writer and educator in the field of natural sciences.

Around two years back, he began posting a ‘word of the day’ on his Instagram page. It attracted hordes of nature enthusiasts, for he gave words like Exuvia, which is a cast-off, hollow skin, shell of an insect, that still holds shape. Often he connects the word to our human way of life, as a short note on humanity as well. “Exuvia is like an echo of an earlier way of life, much like our lives before and after COVID-19,” he says.

Words like magnetoception, he says, means a ‘sense’ present in birds, turtles, fish, arthropods, bacteria and many molluscs, which allows them to see magnetic field lines. “Usually the word is an allusion to something which is going on. An ecological metaphor with a meaning. Sometimes it is from what I’ve been reading and been fascinated by,” he shares. 

Some of his words have information that can help one acquaint oneself with the wild. ‘Rhino Dandis’ is one such. “Dandi means path in Assamese. There are specific trails rhinos keep to in the grasslands. They leave other vegetation untrampled. Many other animals like deer and boars follow the same trails left by the hooves of rhinos for food and water. These paths often link waterbodies, lakes, wetlands and grazing grounds,” Yuvan describes.

Traditional practices like augury, he says, means farmers make weather predictions by watching dragonflies. It’s a sign of foretelling the future (specifically the rains). “Farmers have been reading ‘dragonfly densities’ to augur the rain. Their hovering, shifting, shimmering congregations in the sky make monsoon showers prevalent,” he explains.This practice of posting a word of the day has captured the attention of most of his 15k followers, especially at this time, during the quarantine.

Sometimes, Yuvan picks simple words which might have more than one meaning based on the context. For instance, the word ‘land’ can have 90 different context in south India. “Some of the words have a cultural significance, like Manjalkaani, which is a piece of land the bride’s parents give her during the marriage,” Yuvan adds. Ever since this post, he has added over 50 more south Indian words for land in his journal and given their meanings and significance.

Words like asumbu (slippery land), arappuram (non-taxed land given for social works), neeraarambam (land lacking a source of vegetation), punnilam (drought ridden land), ulladinilam (lakeside land) and puramboke (land of commons/uncultivable land, often performing important ecological functions) are a few from the list of around 90 words.Picking words from books and articles that he reads, Yuvan posts words twice or thrice a week. “It depends on what I read or find, but I try to keep up the practice because I have received a good response from my followers,” he says. Despite the grim situation, Yuvan and his ilk keep up our spirits. For details visit: a_naturalists_column on Instagram

India Matters


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